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Mastering the stage: performance tips for adult dancers

Performance tips for adult dancers - mature jazz dancers in Dragonfly Dance's 2022 Student Showcase
Photo by Kevin Taylor

Performing onstage as an adult dancer, or at any age, can be both exhilarating and nerve wracking. A performance is about so much more than those few minutes onstage. It is also about the weeks or practice leading up to the performance, dress rehearsal, getting ready, and the excited buzz of being backstage. At thetime of writing this article, Dragonfly Dance students are preparing for our annual student showcase, and we'll be raising the curtain in 3 weeks time.

The opportunity to perform as a dancer is not as common for adults as it is for children and teenagers, and you may have never had the chance to perform before, or it may have been quite some time. If that’s the case, then take a few moments to read this post to find out about how to prepare so your performance experience is both memorable and enjoyable. You’ll discover valuable tips to hep you build confidence, achieve performance quality, overcome stage fright, cover mistakes gracefully, foster a positive mindset, prepare physically, and remember choreography.

Building confidence

Here’s a little secret. It is not the best technician, or the most talented dancer, or the one who remembers the choreography the best who delights the audience the most. It is the dancer who shows confidence who catches their eye. Most audiences, especially in non-professional performances, are keen to see people enjoying themselves. If you look and feel confident, they will be more relaxed and enjoy your performance more.

But the question is, how do you project confidence when your stomach is full of butterflies and you’re terrified you’ll make a fool of yourself? Some might say ‘fake it until you make it’, and that is definitely a helpful tip, but it will be even better if you are authentically confident about what you are doing. And of course, you’ll have a much better time onstage and in the leadup, if you feel prepared. Four tips to you can help to build your confidence, in addition to making sure you know the choreography and have the skills to perform it, include visualisation, positive self talk, rehearsing as if you are performing, and consistency.


Imagine that you are performing flawlessly on stage. It might sound silly, but visualisation is a powerful mental tool that can make the world of difference. Visualisation stimulates the brain regions involved in mental rehearsal, priming the brain and body for action. Like physical practice, visualisation can improve real-world performance.

When you visual yourself performing successfully, you are sending strong messages to your brain about your ability. Take time during rehearsals, and immediately after rehearsals, to close your eyes and vividly imagine yourself executing the choreography. Be as detailed as you are able to, envisioning the environment, the stage, the audience, the lights, the costume, the movements. By repeatedly visualising success, you create a positive mental blueprint to boost your confidence and reduce anxiety. It helps the actual performance feel more familiar and achievable.

Positive Self-Talk

The first step in positive self talk is to become more aware of your internal dialogue. Catch yourself in those moments of doubt where there is a little voice in your head telling you that you’ll never be able to do this, that you are ridiculous or even trying, that you are going to make a fool or yourself and let others down.

Every time you have one of these thoughts, you are hard wiring yourself to fulfil those thoughts. Instead, gently dialogue with that worrying voice, and challenge it. Let it know that you appreciate it looking out for you, but you are in charge here, and that’s not the way you are going to proceed.

It can help to write out a list of your strengths as a dancer, so that when doubts arise, you have a quick and handy reference to replace those thoughts. The goal is to cultivate a positive mindset that will carry you through challenging times and serve as a mental anchor during the performance.

Rehearse as if performing

Practice with intensity and purpose, as if you are already performing. Lot of dancers expect that somehow they’ll magically be able to perform when they go onstage. And yes, the adrenaline might help you, but it could also make you jittery. So instead, practice the performance quality of your movements. Don’t mark or just go through the motions. As often as possible, within your physical limits, perform the dance full out every time you practice it in class, as well as in your own time. Yes, there will be times when you are focusing more on mental rehearsal, and that is important too. But you do need to be regularly dancing as if performing for that to come naturally when you are onstage. And for you to have the physical fitness to perform at your best when you might be feeling under pressure.

Rather than going through the motions, focus on the quality of your movements and the emotional expression within each step. Engage your mind fully in the process, understanding the purpose behind every gesture.

Be consistent

Consistency is key in developing confidence. Repeatedly practicing challenging sections not only refines your technique but also builds muscle memory, allowing your body to respond instinctively during the actual performance. Pay attention to details like posture, timing, and transitions between movements. The more confident and assured you become in rehearsal, the more likely those qualities will translate to the stage.

Additionally, consider simulating performance conditions during some rehearsals. Dance in front of a mirror or record yourself to mimic the pressure of being observed, or even ask someone else to watch you perform. This can help desensitise you to the scrutiny of an audience, making the actual performance feel more like just another well-practiced routine.

If you do regularly dance in front of the mirror, make sure you rehearse without it, as you may not realise how much you depend on the mirror when it is there. Even better, practice your dance facing different directions so you won’t be thrown by the change in your environment once you are onstage.

As you dance with purpose and intensity in rehearsals, you'll find that your confidence naturally grows, setting the

Performance tips for adult dancers. Advanced ballet students performing the Pas De Quatre from Swan Lake in Dragonfly Dance's 2022 Student Showcase
Photo by Kevin Taylor

Achieving Performance Quality

Performance quality refers to the various elements that contribute to the overall impact of a dance performance. It includes technical proficiency, emotional expression, and stage presence. In class and rehearsal, you may often focus on getting the movements right, but you also need to practice the elements that will lift your dancing to be ready to engage the audience.

Technical proficiency and precision

It’s much harder to really perform if you are struggling with the technique of your dance steps. You need to make sure you feel very confident about executing the steps. This is why your choreographer, if they know what they are doing, won’t give you movements in a performance piece that you need to really focus on to achieve. For example, if you can sometimes execute a double turn, but not always, your turn in the performance should only be a single turn. If there are parts of the choreography that you find challenging, make sure you practice these carefully and more than the other movements.

Practice the movements in different ways. Regularly practice slow and deliberate movements to refine your technique and correct any areas of weakness or inconsistency. Make use of mirrors to visually assess your movements. Practice with and without mirrors. Practice with your eyes closed. Practice the parts that you find tricky by looping them (practising that part over and over until you feel confident with it. Another trick for helping you remember choreography is called backward chaining, which means you practice the end of the routine, then the bit before it, then the bit before that.

Dance with expression

Dance is not just a series of physical movements, it is a form of expression. You can connect with expression by exploring the them or story or mood of the dance piece, and connecting to the music. Ask the choreographer what they want your facial expression to be like and practice that as you dance. It is not simply about plastering a smile on your face, but aiming to internalise those feelings. One trick I have for being able to have a bright expression that looks natural is to tap into my actual feelings. I love performing, so I think to myself this is so much fun, and it makes me smile. I also find that connecting with other dancers helps to create energy and make smiling feel more natural. Making eye contact during the dance is a great tip, because it's difficult not to smile at someone when you make eye contact with them, especially if they're someone you know and like.

It is not just your face that conveys expression in dance. Your body is also important. Find the highs and lows and increase your dynamic range. Some movements may have an impulse at the start, and slow down as the movement is completed. Think about whether the movement should be soft, sustained, sharp, strong, or something else.

Develope your stage presence

Some people say that stage presence, or star quality, can’t be taught. I disagree, and believe anyone can develop stage presence. It needs to be practiced as much as your technique and choreography. Think about things like maintaining a confident posture, tapping into the positive feelings the choreography give you. Create a connection with the audience by making intentional eye contact.

Performance tips for adult dancers. Dancers in the Dragonfly Dance performing company performing Windswept at the Adelaide Fringe Fetsival in 2023
Photo by Kevin Taylor

Overcoming stage fright

Stage fright, or performance anxiety, is a feeling of intense nervousness, apprehension or fear experienced before, and possibly during, a performance. It can include increased heart rate, shallow or rapid breathing, sweating, trembling or shaking, nausea or upset stomach, muscle tension, thoughts of self doubt and fear, difficulty concentrating, impaired balance, and forgetfulness.

Don’t worry though. Stage fright is normal, but not insurmountable, and there are techniques to help you through it. Practising these beforehand, when you are not in a stressful situation, is key to effectiveness.

Deep breathing

Deep breathing exercises can calm the nervous system, slow the heart rate, and induce a state of relaxation. Incorporate some of the following into your practice leading up to and your pre-performance routine:

  • Diaphragmatic breathing – breathe deeply through your nose and into your diapram, feelings your abdomen expand. Hold your breath for a moment to maximum oxygen intake, then exhale slowly through your mouth.

  • Counted breaths – establish a rhythm by counting the duration of each breath, for example, four counts to inhale, hold for 4 counts, exhale for 4 counts.

  • Mindful focus – as you breath, direct your thoughts solely to the rhythmic flow of your breath. This helps to divert your mind from anxiety inducing thoughts.

Positive visualisation

Positive visualisation helps you redirect your thoughts and create a positive mental environment. Visualisation helps to shift the focus from potential pitfalls to a mental image of success.

Here are some tips for positive visualisation:

  • Create a mental image by closing your eyes and vividly imagining yourself onstage, performing well, and see the audience as a sea of smiling faces radiating warmth and encouragement

  • Embrace success by visualsing or hearing the applause and cheers that will follow your performance and allow yourself to imagine how great this feels.

  • Affirming statements, such as reminding yourself that you are prepared, that the audience is there to see you do well, and that you have got this.

  • Visualise the emotional elements of your performance as well as the technical aspects of the dance. Imagine yourself enjoying the experience, feeling confident, and connecting with the audience. By mentally preparing for positive emotions, you condition your mind to associate with performance with joy and fulfilment.

  • Incorporate all your senses in your visualisation, including the lights, the music, the applause, the smell of the theatre.

Routine familiarity

Establishing a pre-performance routine is a grounding strategy that creates a sense of familiarity and comfort when our are getting ready to go onstage. These rituals serve as anchors that provide stability and routine. Routines might include personal rituals, such as a specific warm up routine or a few minutes of deep breathing.

Practice your routine during rehearsals to reinforce the association between the routine and a sense of readiness. Rituals act as cognitive anchors, signalling to the mind that it’s time to transition into performance mode.

  • Engaging in familiar activities or behaviours send reassuring messages to your brain, helping to ease anxiety.

  • Surround yourself with familiar items or people backstage, such as a favourite piece of clothing, a photo, or the presence of a supportive dance friend.

  • Building routines and practicing them during rehearsal helps build a psychological safety net that bolsters your confidence and reduces likelihood of stage fright.

Performance tips for adult dancers. Dress rehearsal for 2022 Student Showcase at Dragonfly Dance
Photo by Kevin Taylor

Covering mistakes gracefully

While some professional dance companies penalise their dancers for making mistakes, this is not the case for non-professionals (or at least it shouldn’t be). My belief is that it’s better to go into the performance knowing that you, or someone else in your group, will make a mistake. The key is to cover the mistake and not draw attention to it, or even make it seem like a planned part of the performance.

Confidence is the key to masking mistakes. If you do make a mistake, resist the temptation to pause or make a facial expression or noise that alerts the audience to the mistake. Practice this in rehearsals as well as onstage, so that your automatic response to an error is to maintain flow and rhythm. If you pull a face every time you make a mistake in rehearsal, changes are you'll automatically do that when you are performing.

No matter what happens, maintain a confident posture and carry yourself with assurance. Remember, the audience doesn’t know what the choreography is supposed to be, and probably won’t notice an error. I’ve experienced some pretty major mistakes, such as the music stopping, forgetting choreography, other dancers not doing the right choreography. The audience rarely notices. Once, we did a performance that was entirely improvised, and one of the people in the audience was a dance friend of mine who commented on how much she enjoyed it afterwards, and when I told her it was entirely improvised she was stunned.


If you have the opporutnity to perform as a dancer, I hope that this article will have helped you make the decision to grab the opportunity with both hands and make the most of it. Performance can be an incredible joy, and give you motivation and purpose for your dance practice. But fear of going onstage can be real and debilitating. Pracisting some of the tips in this article may help you get past that, and go on to have a wonderful time.


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